“You have a disharmonious face.”

“I what?”

I’m sitting in a chair in a doctor’s office, getting prepped for an upcoming surgery to correct my deviated septum. Evidently this preparation is done by trying to sell me an upgrade.

“You have a disharmonious face. If you put a line straight down the center of your face, the sides don’t match.”

“Oh.” I pause. “Is that unusual?”

“Yes, but I can fix it. Since I’m doing surgery on your nose anyway, I can straighten it, put an implant in the tip, give you a chin implant…”

“Give me a what? A chin implant?! So I’ll look like Bruce Campbell?”  

“Who?”

“The guy from the Evil Dead movies. You know, he wrote the book If Chins Could Kill?”

“I’m not familiar with that, but no, it’ll look great.”

“According to who? You?”

“Well yes. But in addition to Ear, Nose, and Throat, I am a plastic surgeon.”

“You’re also wearing Birkenstocks with black socks. Tell you what, I’ll pass for now, thanks.”

I know exactly why the doctor said this. I’d already be in surgery and it would be highly convenient for everyone involved for me to get a few “problem areas” repaired.  For just  few bucks more, not covered by insurance, I could have a brand new harmonious face AND help him finance a new boat or, possibly, a better shoe-sock combination.

The only trouble, of course, is that I’ve always been pretty relaxed with the way I look.  This has less to do with an abundance of self-confidence and more to do with stories of plastic surgery gone horribly wrong.  And don’t misunderstand me, here – I have nothing against plastic surgery, it’s just not for me.

But the seed had been planted.

That night, over dinner, I blurt out, “Do you think I have a disharmonious face?”

My husband looks at me, confused.  “What?”

“Do you think one side doesn’t match the other?”

“Like the front and back?”

I narrow my eyes, “No, like the right side and left side.”

“They don’t match on anyone.”

“How do you know?”

“It just makes sense. And who cares? You look beautiful the way you are.”

I look at him suspiciously. “You’re just trying to make me feel better.”

He sighs.

###

A couple of years earlier, I gave a work presentation.  Afterwards, a colleague asked if I minded if she gave me some feedback.

“I’d love feedback,” I replied. “That’s how I’ll learn what worked and what didn’t.”

“Okay. For starters, people our age don’t have long hair. And if they do, they wear it up during a presentation.”

Blink.

“Um, okay.”  I’m wondering whose age she is referring to.  My age, which at the time was early 30s? Her age, which I’d guess was mid-50s?  An average of the two?  I try to tune out another colleague, who is standing just behind the feedback-giver, doubled over in silent laughter.

“Also,” she continues. “You should be wearing make-up.”

“I am wearing make-up,” I reply earnestly. And I was. I’d specifically put some on for a photo taken that morning. I wonder vaguely if I’m going to have to get Laughing Colleague medical attention soon, because now she’s crouched down, almost sitting on the floor, holding her sides and shaking.

“Then you need to wear more make-up. And lipstick. I could barely see your lips when you were speaking.”

She couldn’t see my lips?

“Oh. Well. Um. My lips really aren’t that, er, noticeable, maybe that’s why? But thanks!” I reply sincerely, shaking her hand.  I motion to laughing colleague, who is just able to pull herself together before attention turns to her, “We have a meeting scheduled, so I have to run. So glad you could make it.”

I understand feedback.  I actually appreciate feedback, even when it’s not positive.  I’ve worked, over the years, to not get defensive about it. When it comes to work, especially, I need to know what other people think. I love new ideas, and considering ways to improve or enhance existing programs or to do things that better meet the needs of our clients.

I don’t understand the kind of feedback and insights that are given specifically to make someone else feel bad, especially when it comes to personal appearance. It seems lazy, to me – is the only thing you can think of something negative?  Do you need to give me personal feedback in a professional setting?  Why?  Is there a legitimate reason?

For the record, I adore Bruce Campbell.

It also goes against something my gran taught me long ago:  if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.

On some level, I get it.  People think they’re trying to be helpful.  On the other hand, there are people out there – we’ve all met them – who do this to make themselves feel superior, or people who are less confident who can only gain confidence through putting others down.

What I’d like people to consider is this:  each of us is different. Each of us is unique.

There is feedback I’d give in private to a close friend. There is feedback I’d give to  work acquaintance, but very little of it (aside from “You have something stuck in your teeth, thought you’d want to know.”) would be personal.

I tend to judge people on their merits and on the job they do and the kind of person they are, not on how they look.  I won’t pretend to be an angel, here – certainly I make mistakes, I judge people for the wrong reasons from time to time because I’m human (at least, that’s the current theory).  But I try not to, and that’s what I’m asking here.

You see, there are days when I still wonder if I have a disharmonious face.  Up until that fateful day in that doctor’s office, it had never crossed my mind. Not once. I wonder if my make-up is good enough for a presentation, or whether I should put my hair up (I generally wear it down in an act of absurdly placed defiance coupled with the fact I’m still learning how to do up-dos that don’t look like a failed hair experiment).  In a way, I’m haunted by these foolish, well-intentioned people even while recognizing how silly it is to worry about what they say.

Let’s try to be a little kinder to each other. When we find ourselves about to make a disparaging remark to someone – ESPECIALLY about their appearance – stop and consider your goal.  Is it to help them, truly help them, or for other, less noble reasons?  Can you think of something nice to say, instead?

I’d like to write more, but I have to go buy some new lipstick.

You know, just in case.

###

Photos from Flickr Creative Commons:  Sand sculpture by Erix; Ponytails by Andrec; Bruce Campbell by Florida Supercon; Lipstick by OliviaP C